Tag: red cross

Worst. IHL. Treaty. Evar….

Suspected Mercenaries in Libya

I really do more things than tweeting, but this morning I got up to find that the ICRC had sent out a message that simply stated the title of the Convention of the OAU for the Elimination of Mercenarism in Africa. Libreville, 3rd July 1977 and a link to the treaty.

I can only assume they’re doing it in response to the situation in Libya where it has been alleged that Gaddafi has been using mercenaries (from Chad? Nigeria?They seem to deny it, claim to be ordinary African migrant workers) to back up his regime.

I find this interesting for a few reasons. The ICRC has tweeted the treaty with zero context whatsoever. As if this was a normal thing to tweet out on a Saturday morning in Geneva. But I hear they’re having a bad ski season, so that might explain it.

The other thing is that this treaty is often held up as an example of just how ineffective IHL is at regulating private actors such as mercenaries and private military companies in conflict.

A brief history of the treaty is that it was written in the 1970s when there were concerns that colonial powers and the then-Apartheid government of South Africa – both who were seen as wanting overthrow left-wing/Marxist/anti-colonial governments – were using mercenaries.

Yet you don’t even need a close reading of the treaty to realize what the problem is. According to Article 1:

1. A mercenary is any person who:

a) is specially recruited locally or abroad in order to fight in an armed conflicts;
b) does in fact take a direct part in the hostilities;
c) is motivated to take part in the hostilities essentially by the desire for private gain and in fact is promised by or on behalf of a party to the conflict material compensation;
d) is neither a national of a party to the conflict nor a resident of territory controlled by a party to the conflicts;
e) is not a member of the armed forces of a party to the conflict; and
f) is not sent by a state other than a party to the conflict on official mission as a member of the armed forces of the said state.

How could one possibly prove 1(a) and (c) in court? They have to do with motivation which, unless the person was stupid enough to write “HA! HA! Today I am a mercenary and I have been specifically recruited to fight and I am solely motivated by profit! HA! HA!” in their diary, would be something that is easy to challenge in any defence. Certainly if the person said that they were motivated by ideological factors, they would fall outside the definition provided.

As Geoffrey Best is often quoted as saying, “any mercenary who cannot exclude himself from this definition deserves to be shot — and his lawyer with him”.

So while I am sympathetic with the ICRC for reminding one and all about the relevant treaties applicable to the situation, there are some difficulties. I’m actually more concerned that this is fueling an anti-foreigner witch- hunt that seems to be taking place where anyone who is suspected of being a mercenary could be attacked while the situation is so chaotic. Certainly the ICRC could have tried to provide some context?

But even beyond linking to a rather useless IHL treaty, perhaps they might focus on Additional Protocol II (which Libya signed in 1978) or at least its customary provisions. While the application of APII is very rare (and it is a pretty weak Protocol) certainly it’s possible to argue that it’s a point where it is applicable? Or is that to make a normative judgement upon the status of the conflict?

Perhaps the best thing about this situation is to renew discussions about how to regulate private actors in conflict, along the lines of the 2008 Montreux Document.


Getting Slizzerd with the Red Cross: Disasters and/in Social Networking

This is not my usual forte – Charli is much better on NGOs, networks and social things. (I just like tweeting.) However, last night when I checked my twitter, a fairly odd message came up from the American Red Cross:

Slightly different from their usual “please donate blood” or “how are you preparing for the blizzard?” kind of emails.

Within an hour, the tweet was withdrawn and replaced with this:

Colour me impressed. A 130 year old humanitarian agency with a sense of humour.

However, I’m drawing attention to the story because yesterday was also the day the ARC released research it has done (in infographic form!) as to how social networking might be used in an emergency. 28% of respondents noted that they would use social networking to let people know they were safe.

It might sound laughable, but after having gone through 7/7 and 21/7 – when mobile networks were completely down, I had to rely on email to find out what had happened to friends and family. I have to say that I would certainly have used facebook and twitter in that situation. And I would have preferred to follow the situation on twitter rather than waiting for press conferences. (Although that just might be me.) So the question is should humanitarian organizations do the same? Should they both gather information from social networks and disseminate it this way as well?

I’m not entirely sure what the risks are – is it that getting a clear picture would be difficult? How to tell the real tweets from the fake ones? What about people (like my parents) who don’t know what a “twitter” is? Would they be disadvantaged by such a turn? Without much background on the subject, I’m going to work with the idea that for now the use of social networking in disasters/crises would be best understood as complementary rather than replacing other services.

However, the infographic provides a really interesting collection of facts and figures related to how social networking has been used in the past and gives us an indication as to how it might be used in the future, other than the promotion of #gettngslizzerd. It also notes the number of emergency response organizations that have twitter accounts.

As for the unfortunate tweet, the Red Cross has given its side of the story here – noting that its members are only human. This is true; however I would add that after working with them recently on a project, they are some really good humans who do an impressive array of work.


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